New York’s nursing home scandal and allegations of bullying and sexual harassment have seriously injured Gov. Cuomo. However, wounding this ruthless political animal is not enough to push him off the political stage.
Only a federal indictment could kill Cuomo politically.
Barring an indictment, I expect the governor to tough it out and, if he survives, to seek what eluded his father: election to a fourth term.
If the politically damaged Cuomo does run in 2022, the question is can a Republican challenger beat him?
In my judgment, it might just be possible for a well-financed, competent Republican to be elected governor with a plurality of votes.
Remember, in times of fiscal and economic crises, even the bluest of states—Massachusetts, Maryland, California—have elected fiscally conservative Republican governors to bail them out.
Let’s face it, fiscally, economically and socially New York is a mess.
Ever increasing taxes and spending, the destruction of small businesses, rising crime and declining education standards have angered plenty of voters.
And after 12 years in office, there could be “voter Cuomo fatigue.”
In 1994, when Mario Cuomo sought a fourth term, Jacob Weisberg predicted in New York Magazine that Cuomo would lose because “there is a deep sense of weariness with Cuomo, a feeling of anger, even betrayal.”
That mood opened the door for an “ABC”—Anybody But Cuomo — campaign that elected an unknown and drab Republican state senator, George Elmer Pataki.
One Republican who might be able to knock off Andrew Cuomo in 2022 is Congressman Lee Zeldin of Suffolk County.
Born and bred on Long Island, Zeldin spent four years in the Army on active duty, served in Iraq and is in the Army Reserves. In his first run for office in 2008, he lost to Democratic Congressman Tim Bishop. Two years later, he was elected to the state Senate. He took on Bishop again in 2014 and won 54 percent to 46 percent.
A prime target of the Democrats, he beat back well-financed challengers in 2016, 2018, and 2020.
As the Republican-Conservative candidate for governor in 2022, Zeldin would fight an uphill battle, but there is a roadmap to victory if everything breaks his way.
To win Zeldin must build on the 38 percent statewide Republican-Conservative base votes.
Zeldin’s military record and Albany and Washington experience would work in his favor. The fact that he is Jewish could help him make inroads with New York City’s middle-class Jewish voters disgusted with Gov. Cuomo’s and Mayor De Blasio’s failed policies.
Zeldin must carry Long Island. Despite Democratic inroads in recent years, this is doable. If the 700,000 people who voted for Trump from Nassau and Suffolk came out, he would carry Long Island.
As for New York City: In 2017, the Republican-Conservative mayoral candidate, Nicole Malliotakis, received 27.8 percent of votes cast and in 2020, Trump’s total was 28.9 percent. If Zeldin could maintain that support—that’s a victory. (Pataki was elected statewide in 1994 while receiving 27 percent of the city’s votes.)
Zeldin would win upstate as Cuomo’s opponents did in 2014 and 2018. But his margin would have to match the 60 percent level of support Pataki received in 1994. This, too, could be achieved if the pro-fracking, pro-gun, and pro-Trump voters came out in droves.
Then there is the battleground county that will decide the election, affluent Westchester. In recent election cycles, Westchester has trended blue. The base GOP vote of this once red bastion is around 33 percent.
To win statewide a Republican must carry Westchester by at least a plurality. Is it possible? Yes, if enough people were sick of paying the highest combined state and local taxes in the nation and were appalled by Cuomo’s mishandling of the COVID pandemic.
Finally, there’s the wild card, the Working Families Party. Its members despise Cuomo for not being a socialist and for changing election laws aimed at putting them out of business.
Cuomo’s plot failed. WFP’s total votes for Joe Biden hit a record 4.5 percent —twice the amount needed to maintain its spot on the ballot.
If the WFP rejected Cuomo and ran a candidate against him, votes cast by disgruntled leftists could hit 5 percent to 6 percent.
If that were to happen, Lee Zeldin would need about 47 percent of the vote to win the election.
In a Republican political tsunami—similar to 1994 when the elder Cuomo went down—Lee Zeldin could be elected New York’s 57th governor in 2022.